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Friday, September 21, 2007

Using an image sequence as a background in Maya

Alright, let's say you shot some beautiful reference or you found a clip online (or elsewhere) that you really like, how can you use that movie as reference? One way is to have it open on your computer or whatever device you're using, studying the movements and the timing of your character or whatever reference you're looking at.
I like having a quicktime movie open as I work in Maya, so I can step frame through the movie and analyze what's going on.

There is another way which will save you a lot of time (if the reference clip you're using is long) and that is using an image sequence as a background in Maya. That way you can pose out your character right next to the reference movie and step frame through your animation and the movie at the same time.

So let's start with a movie. For this example I chose a clip from "Eastern Promises":

If you have Quicktime Pro (which I recommend, it's cheap), then open up your movie, go to:


- Choose a destination for your image files.

- Under "Export:" (which is probably set to "Movie to QuickTime Movie") choose "Movie to Image Sequence".

- Click on "Options...", then keep the JPEG format (no need for hires images, the lower res, the faster the playback in Maya).

- Under "Frames per second", choose the same as your movie. If you don't know what it is, then open the movie, go to Window>Movie Info. You'll see the frame rate next to "Movie FPS". In my case it's 23.98. So in my export window, I'll choose 24 (because that's the closest one that Quicktime gives me).

- Leave the "Insert space before number" box un-checked.

- Under "Options", I keep it at "Best Depth" and medium quality setting.

- Now you have to name it correctly, otherwise Maya won't be able to read it as an image sequence. I will name it: EPref00 (with two zeros). Why two zeros? Hah, good question. Technically, you should just be able to name it whatever you want to and the export will add a numbered sequence, which Maya reads. But unfortunately, that's not always the case. In my case, the numbered sequence needs to have 4 numbers. And since my movie is 45 frames long, I added two zeros, which gives me EPref0001.jpg, EPref0002.jgp, etc. ending with EPref0045.jpg It won't work with 3 numbers(at least with me). Confused? Get this. If I just name it EPref, I get EPref01, EPref02, etc. Once in Maya, when I select my image sequence (more about that later), with a click on EPref01, it's not working. But if I select EPref10, it works. Anything below 10 won't do. I have no idea why. And since I don't want to spend hours trying to figure that stuff out, I just stick with my 4 numbers and enjoy the day. In case it doesn't work for you, experiment with a different amount of numbers. Or have your animation start with frame 10 (you'll just loose the first 9 frames of your reference movie). Please leave a comment and let me know what works for you!

- Click "Save" and wait until the export is done.

Ok, part one is done. Now open Maya.

Look through your render camera. Then, click on View>Select Camera (or select the camera in your outliner).

With your camera select click "Ctrl+A" in order to bring up the camera's Attribute Editor.

Go to the "Environment" tab and open it if it is closed. Click on "Create", which will change your window to the Image Plane Editor.

Under Image Plane Attributes> Display, choose "looking through camera" and not "in all views". Otherwise you will have your image sequence playing in all cameras, which can slow down your computer.
Next to "Image Name" click on the Folder Icon. Navigate to the folder which contains your image sequence and click on your first image, in my case EPref0001.jpg and then Open.

You will notice a thumbnail of your movie next to "Image Plane Sample". Now, underneath "Image Name" check the box next to "Use Image Sequence". This will change the color of the box next to "Image Number" to purple, activating the Image Sequence Expression. Click Close.

Now you can scrub through the timeline and you'll see how the images update. VoilĂ !

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Animation Portfolio Reference

[UPDATED March 10th '08]

- Check out the weight lift animation by Raphael Suter made during his Pixar Internship.


- The February Winner of the 11secondclub competition did a really great job. Check it out!


- These two posts show a very relaxed and smooth walkcycle. One here, and the other one here, which has great visual aids in order to see which body parts are moving.


- Check out Cameron Fielding's "Turok" Animation. Absolutely beautiful. Great reference for more realistic animation.


Here are portfolios I recommend studying.

First, go to Cameron Miyasaki's site. I like his site, because besides showing awesome animation, it also shows a progression from bouncing balls to character work.

So first you have bouncing balls. But it's not just physics, there is great personality in each ball and it's a neat little story.
Then you move on to bipeds. Milt is a simple rig without any mouth shapes and it's perfect for pantomime. The clip shows off great body mechanics and weight, plus a little acting.
Then you move on to a dialogue exercise. Still Milt (I don't know if Hogan was available at that time), no facial work, but it's not needed because his body performance is great. Timing and acting works very well.
Then a full on short, further showcasing Cameron's great sense of acting and pantomime. It's by now 5 years old but the animation is still superb.
He then got an internship at Pixar and there you can see the same progression, just at an even higher level.
First, Luxo Jr. You get bouncing balls and the lamp showing off cute acting. No fancy rig, no fancy facial stuff, still great animation, clear and entertaining.
Then two walkcycles with Mike Wazowski and Sulley. Walks are hard to do and force you to think about a lot of elements, body mechanics wise, and on top of that you need to give it character, which he does.
Once you master all that you should be well equipped to tackle a performance shot and Buzz's slide in and delivery still cracks me up. The timing and acting is awesome.
Unfortunately you won't get to see his feature work at Pixar, just a text description. But there is enough on his page to get your animation juices flowing.


Another portfolio, which I showed in class already, is Guilherme Jacinto's. It's immediately visible that he's a very talented guy. Beautiful drawings and awesome animation work. My favorites being the three person dialogue piece from "Creampuff" for its great acting choices and polish and the Mr. Incredible Physical Test for the weight and poses (beautiful line of acting after he throws the bomb, right down to the fingers).
The rest of his clips are great too of course, check them out again.

Don't forget to check out all the Student Showcases from Animation Mentor. Here's a link to their Fall 2007 Edition, which has some fantastic clips in it.

I think I will add portfolio's and clips to this post as time goes by, stay tuned.

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Don't let the computer do the work for you!

I got an email with very interesting questions and I think the answers would be helpful to the class as well (in case you have the same questions or thoughts).

> On a somewhat different matter, I've got a question regarding animating itself. I'm still having a hard time doing the convertion from 2D to 3D. In 2D it seems to be a lot easier because I control the animation by use of drawing each frame. In 3D the user is supposed to let the application do the inbetweens for you,
Nooooooooo! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! :) You can still "draw" every frame. It just takes long because posing out a character is not as fast as drawing a character. But at the end you are in control over every frame, don't let the computer do the thinking for you.
> so the thing thats racking my brain is the placement of keys and how many is too much/too little. As you mentioned, I can place keys about every 5 frames, which makes the whole 2D to 3D a little easier to convert but seems to defeat the purpose of letting the application do the in-betweens for you,

again, don't let it do anything for you. There are moments where I have keys on every frame, sometimes every now and then, it depends on the move and the controller. Some parts of your body will move more than others, necessitating more keyframes. There is no rule as to how many you have to use, as long as it looks good. If you have 5 main poses and then you do everything in the graph editor in terms of timing, go ahead. If you want to key out all the detail stuff, that's fine too.
> plus seems like an easier way to mess up with pops and such. The other way is how I've been taught thus far; main Poses, then break downs, then polish. When doing this timing of the main poses is good but I kinda lose it as I smooth the stuff out. Although I prefer this, I haven't had a whole lot off success with the end result.

The polish stuff is the hardest thing to do and it takes practice. Also, watch other people's clips to see what type of detail they put into their work. If you think that it looks like a good polished clip, try to find out why.
> As I was looking at you animations I started looking at your soccer performance frame by frame just as he hits the pole. If I am correct it looks as if you animated every pose from the hit till the final bounce onto the ground.

Yes I did, I wanted maximum control. But I don't know if that clip is good reference. :) That was Maya 1 and me using Maya for the first time. I think the "Ze Chair" clip is better, because I was actually aware of the animation principles.

> So, is it suffice to say that on slower actions use minimal amount of keys to let Maya do the inbetweens for you and with fast motion, do it your self?

That's kinda right, depending on the style. For realistic animation you have to add a lot of dirt to your animation if he/she/it is just standing there for instance, to add more subtle complexity to it. But with fast motion I end up keying every frame because since it is so fast (whatever you're doing), it needs to be clear in terms of silhouette, staging, timing, etc. and that's something you need to be in control of, not the computer.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

email problems

Hey guys,

my mail was down yesterday and this morning I was able to send off one email. I'm looking into it and apologize for the delay.

"I'm working on it!"

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